The mystery of Prop. 98

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

As a reporter on California politics and government, one becomes accustomed to wrestling with complicated laws and formulas. But nothing has been more difficult to explain to readers than Prop 98, which establishes a minimum funding guarantee for education.

I tried again in a piece that the LA Times ran on Sunday. Prop 98 is in many ways a great example of what plagues California: the education funding formula is so complicated you’d like to be able to simplify it, but the politics are too dangerous to change it. And why bother? Prop 98 does what it’s supposed to do, which is protect education. After thinking long and hard about it, I do offer one suggestion for reforming it–but the reform in question violates natural law. Enjoy.

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Paging Gov. Garamendi, Or Arnold’s Severe Case Of Potomac Fever

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Gov. Schwarzenegger used an appearance on ABC’s "This Week" Sunday morning to hint that he has interest in leaving his current job to serve in Barack Obama’s cabinet as some sort of energy-environment czar. The McCain-endorsing governor also talked about an Obama presidency as a fait accompli–he referred to "when," not "if," the Illinois senator is president. I suspect you’ll see an effort in the hours and days ahead by the governor and his aides to try to back away from what he told interviewer George Stephanopoulous and talk about his commitment to Californians. They’ll note that he called the discussion "hypothetical" and was merely explaining his desire to serve American governments of either party. But I defy anyone to watch the show or read the transcript and tell me with any confidence that this governor intends to serve out the rest of his term, which runs through the end of 2010.

Here’s the exchange. Stephanopoulous showed a clip of Obama praising the governor’s environmental "leadership."

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Dude, Where Are All Our Cars??

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The estimate from the moving company seemed outrageous, $2542, to move my wife’s compact Mazda from the DC suburbs to our new apartment in Los Angeles.

I decided to see if I could do better.

In the process, I got a glimpse of California’s economic meltdown.

First I tried calling other major moving companies, places that had shipped cars for my friends. The competition immediately produced gains — a series of estimates between $1,400 and $1,600 — for the identical service. But on the phone, a kindly mover noted my itinerary — “going to California, eh?” — and suggested I might do well by submitting my particulars to a web site used by companies in the business of transporting autos.

I did. And immediately, I found myself to be a hot commodity, at the center of a bidding war between auto transport companies. They emailed twice a day. They called the house. With each email and call, the prices dropped further and further.

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If… if… if…

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The arguments on redistricting offered earlier this week by Joel and Tony really amount to a series of hypothetical statements that don’t square with California’s political reality:

If the “yes’ campaign” were to convince voters that the redistricting ballot initiative is something it’s not (populist and anti-politician)….

If the redistricting issues were to attract detailed, thorough coverage from a shrinking California media that now shuns serious topics…

If Don Perata were the Easter Bunny…

I’m not a doctor, but I enjoy practicing medicine without a license. Recently, I’ve begun diagnosing a California disease called Redistricting Fantasy Syndrome. Most of the population doesn’t know enough about redistricting to be susceptible to the disease. But in certain elite precincts, RFS has become a minor epidemic, striking down otherwise sensible moderate “goo goos” who persist in the belief that good process is good for you.

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Redistricting is doomed to failure

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Here are some immutable truths about California. The sun sets gloriously in the West. The Clippers lose more games than they win. And redistricting ballot initiatives fail.

The measure was doomed the moment the California Democratic Party opposed it last weekend. The Democrats will call it partisan, and it will go down in the Obama onslaught. To have any chance at succeeding, a redistricting initiative needs more than bipartisan support. It needs partisan acquiescence. And this measure doesn’t have that.

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Is Arnold Schwarzenegger the most conservative, anti-tax governor in the history of California?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Those who followed the recent California Forward panel, and accompanying LA Times pieces, on how four previous governors — Earl Warren, Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson — resolved budget difficulties might have reached that conclusion. A different author described how each governor had had the courage to raise revenues to support a growing state.

The tax numbers on Reagan, offered by biographer Lou Cannon, are jarring in light of today’s debate. Please tell the Republican kids, if there are any Republican kids anymore. Taxes on corporations went from 5.5 to 9 percent; the tax on banks from 9.5 percent to 13 percent, and the highest rate on personal come tax jumped from 7 percent to 11 percent.

If Reagan rose from the dead and tried that today, Republican lawmakers would shun him, and every anti-tax group in the state would be racing to the attorney general’s office with recall papers.
What about other governors? Deukmejian held the line, sort of. He supported a temporary sales tax increase that was repealed — because of a surging economy — before it ever had to go into effect. Gray Davis cut taxes at first, but then raised the dreaded vehicle license fee, or "car tax."

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My Kingdom for a Legislature

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Whenever I think about California and its problems, my mind fills with questions, unanswered questions about the state’s various messes and how we got into them. The press is dying, but sometimes I think how nice it would be if the state had some entity … you know… a body… a group of folks… maybe elected by and accountable to voters… you know, with subpoena power… the ability to call hearings… ask all kinds of questions — investigate.

You know. If we had a legislature.

Oh, that’s right.

If we had a real legislature.

If we had a real legislature, we might get to the bottom of any number of campaign finance scandals.

If we had a real legislature , we might learn what’s really going behind the scenes at CalPERS and CalSTRS.

And if we had a real legislature, we might figure out what exactly the state did wrong — or didn’t do that it should have done — to prevent some of the worst problems in the mortgage business.

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Do we need an investigation of Prop 66?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Over the last two weeks of October 2004, Gov. Schwarzenegger and billionaire Henry Nicholas led a campiagn to defeat Prop 66, a ballot initiative that would have eased some of the most onerous parts of California’s "three strikes" law. With Schwarzenegger’s campaigning and Nicholas’ money, the "no" campaign made political history, taking an initiative that seemed certain to pass and sending it to a shocking defeat.

The "no" vote grew by nearly 30 points in two weeks. Independent pollsters say they have never seen such dramatic movement in a ballot initiative.

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UTLA Teachers’ Strike is a Truly Horrible Idea

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The leaders  of the United Teachers Los Angeles prides themselves on no-holds-barred organizing for the benefit of teachers. But they’ve gone too far in preparing a one-hour strike for this Friday, June 6.

Such a strike, if it’s not stopped by the courts (it’s an outrage that LAUSD agreed to a union contract that permits this kind of spot walkout), could leave classrooms full of children unattended during school hours. UTLA says its teachers have been working with principals on one-hour safety plans. Let’s hope so.

If harm befalls even one child, it should be on the union leaders’ heads.

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The unforeseen impact of the Gay Marriage ruling

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Will the California Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage have impact beyond the issue of marriage? Much of the current debate is focused on the decision’s legalization of same-sex marriage and a November ballot initiative whose sponsors seek to reverse its effect by putting a ban on gay marriage in the state constitution.

But the future of gay marriage in California is not really in doubt. Same-sex Polling shows that those of us under 40 overwhelmingly support legalization of gay marriage; this generational view is so strong that it won’t be denied.

The unknown is whether the decision will impact other issues.

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